Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Why do we care about Americans and their guns?

Another day, another mass shooting by a disaffected young man with access to an awful lot of firepower. They seem to happen with depressing regularity in America these days. Naturally, South Africans on Twitter had plenty to say about events in Newtown, and I was no exception (sensing that words become meaningless after a while, I also sketched several responses to the event; they’re the images you see in this post).

I’m just as interested in the way people respond to events as the events themselves — sometimes more so, and I was fascinated by how much discussion revolved around this, and how heated it all got.

Here’s my question: why do we care so much about Americans and their guns?

We don’t live there. We are not directly affected by US gun laws; we aren’t even indirectly affected. And our own gun violence figures are much worse, though we specialise in bog standard criminality rather than spectacular mass killings. Yet we spend considerable time and energy arguing over it on Twitter and Facebook, among ourselves and in the comments facilities of news websites.


Having tried to make sense of why I care, and watched the debates around me, these are some of the factors I think motivate us:

1. Not controlling civilian access to assault rifles is demonstrably stupid. The Second Amendment at the heart of this debate dates from 1791, when reloading a musket was tedious and difficult. Fast forward to 2012, when it’s possible to fire several rounds a second and causing maximum damage without having to try very hard at all. Can there be any legitimate reason for a civilian living in a $700 000 house in the suburbs to own a semi-automatic rifle, body armour and extended magazines? As one Newtown hunter observed in the wake of the shooting, “We live in a town, not a war.”

2. The gun lobby are racist, sexist, homophobic hicks. OK, maybe not all of them. But it’s pretty obvious that a love of high-calibre weapons is linked to a suite of other issues associated with social conservatism and creepy misogynist Republicans. (Google any gun control debate to see the quality of discussion. It makes news24 comments look civil.) A lot of South Africans I follow were very vocal in our support for Obama during the US elections, so in a sense, this is a continuation of that.

(As an aside, the company that produces the Bushmaster semiautomatic assault rifle is called Freedom Group. Vomit.)

3. We live in a culture saturated with US news and views. Twitter in particular has made the world an even smaller place. As a result, America’s issues feel very familiar to us

It’s an easy issue to mouth off on.

It’s not our problem. Getting angry about something that happens in America is so much easier than having to deal with our own problems. The gun situation is totally different in South Africa, for one thing: as Andrew Trench tweeted the other day, South Africans own 12.7 guns per 100 people as opposed to an astonishing 88 — but 17.03 firearm-related homicides per 100 000 as opposed to just 2.97. This means (as we all know) that most deaths are from illegal firearms and related to crime, a very different proposition from the kind of manifestly unhinged act that reverberated around the world on Friday.

I spent much of my married life sleeping with a gun safe containing six weapons (four hunting rifles, two handguns) in the bedroom. I hated it, but recognised it as a hangover from my ex’s childhood growing up on a farm. And if I lived on a farm in South Africa now, the first thing I’d do is learn how to use a gun. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it either, if I had to.

But that’s not something that Americans in nice suburbs should have to think about, and it’s just astonishing to the rest of us that they do.

Ultimately, the gun control debate speaks to the kind of society I and most of the people I interact with online wish to live in: kind, fair, socially liberal. It’s not one a lot of South Africans actually do get to experience on a day to day basis, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream about it.

And that, I think, is why we care so very much about Americans and their guns.

Tags: , ,

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    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      The worst USA fantasies are not Walt Disney, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland. The Wind the Willows, Lord of the Rings etc etc – those are obvious fanatsies.

      They are CSIR, House, Charlie’s Angels etc – where people of 30 have the wisdom of people of 60, cops chase and catch crooks in high heeled shoes, the good guy always wins, no-one is ever broke or frightened, and waitresses in New York live in luxury apartments.

      I like Two and a Half Men – one is rich, the other is poor, the boy is a moron, the grandmother a bitch, and the maid/housekeeper does the work and no-one pretends the men have a clue about housework!

    • nguni

      Assault rifles are a joke in a free country. The NRA knows this, expects they will be banned again. Hopefully permanently this time.
      This scenario might have been avoided if a strong father figure was available, dad left the house four years before. Mothers and guns… Not a good combination as there is not enough discipline in single-mother households. Obligatory gun-safes in the USA? He shot his mom in bed so he didnt have to force access to the weapons. The brat tried to buy his own assault weapon days before, but was turned away. No weapons should have been sold to a woman with a freak/geek loner son. Why weren’t the right questions asked?

    • Momma Cyndi

      Lyndall Beddy

      I was brought up watching The Roadrunner – never once have I even considered dropping an anvil on someone. I am a great horror movie fan but I’ve no desire to take a chainsaw to someone. I was brought up with the hell and damnation preaching but it didn’t ever make me want to burn someone at the stake. My favourite way to let off steam is to play Mortal Kombat but the idea of ripping someone’s head off in real life is not my idea of fun.

      Don’t blame the messenger.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Momma Cyndi

      But were these horror movies and books the STRONGEST influence in your life = or did you have a strong support base of family and friends?


      What a sexist chauvanistic thing to say! My mother was the best shot in her family and better than her brothers – that, plus her Maths ability, is why she was chosen to train as a gunner on Robben Island at the beginning of World War11

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Momma Cyndi

      Was The Roadrunner a human person or a cartoon character? Because the later are pure fantasy and not a danger.

    • Terrance Amelang

      Thanks for your support Bridge. Glad it was useful. Your kids did a greatjob with the comments this morning.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Lyndall Beddy

      They are ALL fictional characters!
      Those little people in your TV aren’t really on candid camera!

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      What a sexist chauvanistic thing to say! My mother was the best shot in her family and better than her brothers – that, plus her Maths ability, is why she was chosen to train as a gunner on Robben Island at the beginning of World War11

    • Dave Harris

      @zoo keeper & Lennon
      “The concept of an armed populace is at the very core of a free society”
      Its mind-boggling how indoctrinated your minds really are to actually believe this bs.
      Indigenous cultures have lived and thrived for THOUSANDS of years without slavery. Yes, indigenous societies are stratified like the caste/class system, but they are nevertheless were largely happy and peaceful until the cancer of colonialism and imperialism swept the world through the brutal military might – thanks to Alfred Nobel for inventing dynamite!
      So please take time to think before spewing out such vile assertions like fear and violence being the “very core of a free society”. Sies!

    • Stuff

      Progressive liberal Americans move ahead despite right wing gun nutters objections. I love this.

      “More than 2,000 firearms — including 75 assault weapons — were collected Wednesday during the first Los Angeles gun buyback since the shooting deaths of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut………………………………………………A rocket launcher also was surrendered.

      Gun owners who surrendered weapons received Ralphs gift cards. The value of each card depended on the type of gun surrendered. Assault weapons were exchanged for $200 gift cards. Gift cards valued up to $100 were offered for handguns, rifles, and shotguns ”

      Rest of article:

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Momma Cyndi

      To African Children in the bush and many others in the Third World they are NOT fantasy characters but real – they congregate around the one TV set the village has running off a generator and believe that is real America (ref: “African Laughter” by Doris Lessing)

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Momma Cyndi

      What the Third World needs is ordinary stories about ordinary people starting small businesses and the trials and tribulations they have to go through and the mistakes they make before they succeed.

    • Max

      More dumb dishonest drivel from Dingleberry Dave. Neither Zookeeper nor Lennon claimed that “fear and violence are at the core of a free society”. DD did. The assertion is his alone. Its vileness is his alone.

      DD, have you seen the effects of the caste system in India and Nepal?
      Were you there thousands and thousands of years ago to testify to the utopian land of happy peace and harmony that you assert was in existence? Was there really no slavery in indigenous societies for thousands and thousands of years? Not in Egypt and not in India nor South America? Your claims are ignorant assertions, wishful thinking and nothing more. Pure nostalgic fantasy. Reminds me of the blood and soil ideas of a certain European fanatical group actually.

      You took one too many magic mushrooms this time Dave.

    • Lennon

      @ Dave Harris: We’re talking about gun ownership, not slavery. Then again, how many slaves (since you brought it up) own guns? Freedom (i.e. not being a slave, whether to an individual or to the state) requires that all citizens be on an equal footing. Being armed caters for that.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      We have just had a Coptic Church bombed with chemical fertilizer bomb and a family of 5 children and their mother hacked to death by a panga wielding man. Neither needed guns, and guns don’t shoot themselves! And what about the medical student gang raped on a bus in India and then impaled – no guns there either!

    • Dave Harris

      @Max & Lennon
      Arming the populace to ensure their “freedom”? What insanity!!!

      You’re sounding awfully like the fundamentalist American gun lobby – the NRA who is really a political organization masquerading as the protector of freedom while being supported by a bunch of redneck militia group who want to cling to their assault weapons for “hunting” purposes! These lunatics now wish to mandate guns in every American classroom! Then in every church, synagogue, mosque, temple…LOL Seems like you’re adopting the same mindset as like these fringe lunatics by viewing our government as threatening your freedoms – ironically those same freedoms that so many millions struggled and died for during our long liberation struggle?

      btw. If you promote gun ownership then surely every country also has the right to possess nuclear weapons to ensure their freedom, right? Are you saying that we too should develop our own nuclear weapons or are you guys simply revealing your hypocrisy – typical of our beneficiaries of apartheid?

    • Max

      Dave Harris there you go again as usual jumping to extremes of either/or, black-and-white. Because I disagree with your reasoning, therefore I am a lunatic fringe fundamentalist American gunlobbying racist apartheid apologist? When will you grow up?

      I am opposed to all forms of weaponry including guns.

      I am also opposed to your outlandish childish nostalgic assertions and your extremist fanatical style of adolescent black and white thinking.

    • PM

      Why arming the populace to protect themselves against the government makes no sense at all:

    • zoo keeper


      Thanks for the link, but it seems you’ve misunderstood the article if that’s what you thought it said!!!

    • zoo keeper


      You are opposed to all forms of weapons, that’s fine by me, it really is.

      However, is your home protected by “Armed Response”?